When my friend Kat returned from a vacation in Sweden this year, she told me, “Hey, did you know that no one knows what potatis korv is there? People were confused whenever I asked about it.”
Now, I don’t believe most people speak so casually about obscure sausage varieties, but Kat happens to have made potatis korv with me for years, in preparation for my annual Christmas smörgåsbord. I’ve never been to Sweden myself, despite exactly half of my ancestors claiming Swedish heritage. Still, it surprised me—I can’t remember a year in my life where my Grandma Lucille laid out the smörgåsbord and the korv was missing. But apparently, potatis korv is a regional dish, though Swedish Americans all over the United States may know exactly what it is.
In Sweden, it is more commonly known as värmlandskorv, after the province of Värmland. Only in Värmland (and outside of Sweden) is it known as potatis korv. It was brought to the Midwest in the nineteenth century when many Swedes immigrated to the prairies out of necessity (for the usual reasons: religious persecution, economic inequality, famine, rapid population growth). My own family were bearers of this sausage tradition; two of my great-great-grandparents emigrated from Värmland when they were children. Potatis korv is a symbol of these leaner, harsher times. Filled with ground potatoes, it allowed families to stretch the meat they were able to afford to feed even more people.
Now, it’s served alongside an absurd abundance of dishes every Christmas. Struggling with it every year (with help, of course), fills me with an immense sense of gratitude for those who came before me, the recipe burned in their memory.
2 pounds ground pork (not lean)
2 pounds ground beef (not lean)
2 pounds waxy potatoes, like Yukon gold
1 large yellow onion, roughly cut into 2-inch pieces
2/3 cup cold water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons white or black pepper (white is more mild)
About two lengths of hog casings
Meat grinder/sausage stuffing attachment for a stand mixer
Sterilized sewing needle
Soak casings overnight in cold water in the fridge. About one hour before you plan to stuff, change out the cold water for warm—about 90 degrees F. Keep changing out the water throughout the process when it gets cold. This will make the casings much easier to work with.
Scrub and boil the potatoes until very slightly tender, but not cooked all the way through—about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on their size. You want them to be only very slightly tender, making them easier to grind and less likely to turn brown. When ready, lift out of boiling water and plunge into a bowl of cold water. After a few minutes, slip off the skins under cold running water. Roughly cut into pieces small enough to fit through a grinder.
Grind the onion and potato (I like to alternate—the onion clears out any leftover starches in the grinder) using a small-ish gauge. I prefer the texture smooth, and finely ground potatoes accomplishes that.
Combine the potatoes and onions with the rest of the ingredients and mix well with your hands. Make sure all ingredients are very well incorporated. Test your seasoning by frying 1 tablespoon of the mixture and adjust if necessary.
Use a medium-gauge grinder attachment when setting up the sausage stuffer. The meat will grind once more on its way into the casings.
Thread the casing all the way onto the stuffing attachment, as you would a stocking. Leave about 3 inches off at the end. This is where you will tie off the sausage when you are done stuffing.
I personally like a very long coil of sausage, though this is difficult to accomplish without bursting the casing. I prefer it because I serve the sausage to 50 or more people every year—it is much easier to cook it all at once. You may make your sausages any size, as is convenient for you.
Prick the sausage as it is stuffed with a sterilized sewing needle, which is too fine to cause tears in the casing. This allows air to escape so the sausage can be properly stuffed. If you are making shorter links, this step may not be necessary as air can escape out of the ends. Either way, you will need to prick them before cooking, or they will burst.
Once the sausage is tied off at both ends (I use butcher’s twine), either freeze the sausage or cook it. I freeze it in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with all of the air removed. Thaw at room temperature for a few hours, or in the fridge overnight, when you are ready to cook.
Cook by covering with water in a large pan with a top. Bring to a boil then bring down to a bare simmer. The potato needs time to cook. Cover and let cook on low for about 30 to 45 minutes, or a little less if making small links. It will be slightly firm and pale when done. Don’t overcook it as you will be browning it next. I like to freeze my potatis korv at this point using the same method as above for ease.
When you are ready to eat, either brown in a bit of neutral oil in a large pan, or, if you have a very long coil, brown in a 400-degree F oven on a greased, rimmed baking sheet for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Slice and serve with a strong mustard.
Cecilia Peterson is the digitization archivist in the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections. She is strong enough to crank an antique meat grinder.